I know St. Thomas Aquinas; and you, sir, are no St. Thomas Aquinas
August 22, 2012 § 85 Comments
Some days I wish my relic of St. Thomas Aquinas could talk.
In various places on the Internet you will find various Catholics arguing that Aquinas’ understanding of the human act specifies the object of a human act as some sort of de facto subjective proximate intention, motivation, or goal, as opposed to the acting subject’s objective chosen behaviour. They won’t call it an intention by name, of course, because that would undermine the whole cloaked consequentialist project of developing justifications for killing the innocent in some circumstances (e.g. warfare, abortion to save the life of the mother, etc). Nonetheless by re-making the object into a subjective intention, contrary to the magisterium’s characterization of the object as the objective aspect of a human act, our consequentialists-in-disguise attempt to de-fang Veritatis Splendour.
You know Veritatis Splendour: the encyclical where the Pope uses the term behaviour 60-ish times to refer to the object of a human act (and the term action a similar number of times), while using the term intention to refer to the object precisely never. The encyclical which expressly refers to itself as the first Magisterial document, ever, to go into detail about the moral theology of the human act. The encyclical which stands athwart modern proportionalist, consequentialist, and other ‘teleological’ moral theories shouting “wrong!” The encyclical which reaffirms and then goes into detail about the dependence of absolute morality on universal moral norms which forbid certain actions no matter what intentions or circumstances might obtain. That Veritatis Splendour.
De-fang the object of a human act by making it subjective, apply the principle of double-effect, and bombs away! What’s not to like?
Now I’m no Aquinas scholar, but I do speak Aquinas 101. Looking at the matter scholastically (hah!), a human act has the same four causes as any other thing. The two pertinent causes for our purposes here are the formal cause and the final cause. In Aquinas’ account, the intention is the final cause of the act: it is the reason why we choose to do a particular action. The object of the act is the formal cause (form) of the act: it is the specific kind of behaviour or action chosen by the acting subject.
It seems to me that attempts to recruit Aquinas as a way of de-fanging Veritatis Splendour just go to show that you can lead a Catholic to logos, but you can’t make him read.